by Margie arnold
21st Force Support Squadron marketing
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Captain James Bales, 21st Force Support Squadron orthopedic surgeon currently on staff at the U.S. Air Force Academy Hospital, has been named U.S. Air Force Male Athlete of the Year for 2010.
He received the award at the annual Air Force Sports Directors Conference in San Diego in December.
Captain Bales is one of the military’s elite athletes who found his niche in triathlons – swimming, biking and running. Now, he is part of the two-year U.S.A.F. World Class Athlete Program, which allows him to train for the 2012 Olympic Trials and Olympic Games.
He started competing in triathlons after graduating from the USAF Academy in 2001, where he was a member of the varsity swimming team. First, it was Ironman Wisconsin in 2002; then, he raced annually in the Armed Forces Championship beginning in 2003; finally, he competed in the 2007 World Military Games and the 2008 Ironman World Championship – just to name a few.
On June 5, 2010 Captain Bales was one of 78 of the military’s top athletes who competed in the 2010 Armed Forces Triathlon at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, Calif. He completed a 1,500 meter swim, 40K bike and 10K run to win the event in a cool 1:46:32 (19:24 swim, 54:39 bike, 33:44 run plus transition times) and he won his first gold medal.
Captain Bales had the energy and stamina to compete, although he didn’t arrive at the competition until 13 hours before the start of the event because he was completing his five-year residency program at Wilford Hall Medical Center, an Air Force Level 1 Trauma Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
Captain Bales answered questions about his training and athletic accomplishments:
Q – Now that medical school is behind you and you have more normal work hours as an orthopedic surgeon, do you have the luxury of more sleep in your life?
A – That is one of the main advantages of the World Class Athlete Program. It gives me dedicated time to recover from tough workout sessions. This includes getting eight hours of sleep a night. This is in stark contrast to my time as an orthopedic resident when I was averaging only a few hours of sleep a night and on-call for the hospital an average of every fourth night.
Q – What led you to become an elite athlete?
A – Actually I was a four-year letter winner in swimming at the Air Force Academy. In medical school I lived 10 miles away from school and started running and biking to school to save money. Shortly afterward, I began racing in triathlons. So, it all started as a means to avoid the parking fees at school.
Q – Have you always been an athlete/athletic – like, since you were a kid? Is athleticism in your genes?
A – Yes, I grew up on a farm in eastern Colorado where we raised sheep. So, it was always important to be fit and strong because daily chores of feeding the lambs, hauling and stacking the hay, and general farm life required it. In order to build lean muscle mass in market lambs, we built an obstacle course for the sheep. I guess you could say I started running when my brothers and I would run the course with the sheep. I didn’t start swimming until high school (which is very late for a swimmer) and was fortunate to have improved enough to make the Air Force Academy swim team as a cadet.
Q – Tell me about your training – about how you train for a triathlon.
A – Training for triathlon is intense and a delicate balancing act. First, you must try to balance fitness in three separate sports – swimming, cycling and running. Because triathlon is a multisport activity, it requires skill in three sports instead of the traditional one. This means that at any given time I may be in an intense workout phase for one discipline, but using the other two disciplines as recovery workouts. I average 10 to 13 separate workouts each week. This equals on average two workouts per day. Each workout length can vary between 45 minutes to over six hours in length depending on the current training period. Balanced along with the three sports are rest and recovery periods. Sometimes the rest period is as important, or more important, than the workout itself.
Q – How do you prepare mentally for competition?
A – Racing at the international level comes down to who is having the best day. Realistically, there are 50 people in the world today who have the potential to win the gold medal in triathlon at the 2012 Olympics. Over the next two years, it will come down to training and preparation both mentally and physically to gain the extra edge to possible have a shot at an Olympic medal.
Q – Now that you are part of the USAF World Class Athlete Program and training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, what competition is next on the horizon?
A – Basically my goal as part of the World Class Athlete Program is to make the 2012 Olympic Games. To do this I need to travel all over the world to collect points by top finishes at World Cup and Pan American Cup races. My next race will be in Honduras in January.
Q – Is your life all about triathlon training and competition and being an orthopedic surgeon?
A – Triathlon and orthopaedic surgery are two very time consuming activities, and I am passionate about both. However, at the end of the day, I am an Airman who serves our troops as a surgeon. As a surgeon, I am privileged to engage in the care of our troops and their families who can return them to the playing field, battlefield or both. Being an athlete, I have the understanding and empathy towards my patients as someone who has “been there.” I know what it is like to recover and rehab from an injury or setback, and I think this makes me a better physician.